The United States (US) hosts thousands of lakes of different sizes, volumes, depths, and hydrological patterns. Some of these lakes are natural while others are man-made. Some lakes exist at higher elevations while others are located at low elevations. The lakes in the country play a significant role in the lives of the American population. Most lakes are rich in fish resources which provide a source of income and food for the people. Scenic lakes are associated with high rates of tourism and support the economy of the country. Industries often grow up around the large lake systems that facilitate the transport of industrial goods and raw materials from one place to another.
Here we discuss the largest lakes in the US and the roles they play in the lives of the people in the country.
10. Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee is the tenth largest lake in the US and the largest freshwater lake in the US State of Florida. Surprisingly, however, the lake spanning an area of 1,715 km2 is exceptionally shallow with an average depth of only 9 feet, an unexpected figure for a lake of its size. Being located in the hurricane belt of the country, Lake Okeechobee has often been associated with death and disaster. The Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928 and the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 claimed hundreds to thousands of lives in the Lake Okeechobee area. The lake has also been associated with high levels of pollution due to field and industry run-offs entering the waters of the lake and frequent natural disasters adding polluted water to the lake. Tourism in the Lake Okeechobee area is linked to the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail which allows hiking, cycling and driving through the scenic trail along the lake. Crappie, largemouth bass, pickerel, bluegill, etc., are some of the fish caught in the Lake Okeechobee.
9. Lake Oahe (man-made)
Lake Oahe, one of the biggest lakes in the US, and the ninth largest lake in the country, occupies an area of 1,774 km2. The man-made lake exists as a large reservoir behind the Oahe Dam constructed on the Missouri River. The lake stretches from central South Dakota to North Dakota. The maximum depth of the lake is 62 m, it has a length of 372 km, and a shoreline that stretches for 3,620 km. Lake Oahe is a popular tourist destination, receiving approximately 1.5 million visitors every year. 51 recreational areas along the shores of this reservoir offer tourists myriad activities like angling, boating, swimming, bird-watching, etc. Northern pike, smallmouth bass, walleye, channel catfish are found in the lake. Lake Oahe is also known for housing populations of the endangered fish, the pallid sturgeon. Prehistoric archeological sites and native American settlements also exist in the lake area.
8. Iliamna Lake
The Iliamna Lake, located in southwest Alaska, about 160 km west of Seldovia, is the largest lake in Alaska and the eighth largest lake in the US, occupying an area of 2,626 km2. The water of this lake drains into the Bristol Bay via the Kvichak River. The Iliamna Lake is associated with the Iliamna Lake Monster, an elusive aquatic creature whose existence is yet to be proven. However, a section of experts believes the “Monster” could actually be a White Sturgeon or a Pacific Sleeper Shark. Grayling, trout, and salmon are the three primary fishes caught by anglers in the Iliamna Lake. The lake also serves as the spawning ground for the biggest Red Salmon run in the world.
7. Lake of the Woods
The Lake of the Woods, a 3,846 km2 lake occupies parts of both the US state of Minnesota and Manitoba and Ontario in neighboring Canada. The lake cuts off a part of Minnesota - the Angle Township and the Northwest Angle from the rest of the US. To travel to these places, one needs to either cross the lake or travel through Canada. The Shoal and Kakagi Lake, the Rainy River, and other smaller rivers feed The Lake of the Woods. The lake finally drains into the Winnipeg River. The lake region is a birdwatcher’s delight as it thrives with a variety of bird species, notable among them being the piping plover, American white pelicans, and bald eagles. Camping, fishing, and other recreational facilities are available to tourists visiting the Lake of the Woods area for vacations.
6. Great Salt Lake (salt)
The Great Salt Lake is one of the largest lakes in the US, occupying an area of 5,483 km2 in northern Utah. The lake, also known as “America’s Dead Sea,” holds the record of being the largest salt water lake in the entire Western Hemisphere. The Bear, Jordan, and Weber rivers that drain into the lake deposit around 1.1 million tons of minerals annually into the Great Salt Lake. Thus, the endorheic lake is highly saline, and like the Dead Sea, people can easily float in the waters of this lake. The Great Salt Lake, despite being extremely salty houses a large number of native birds, waterfowl, brine shrimp, Wilson’s phalarope, etc.
5. Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario, the fifth biggest lake in the US (19,011 km2), also occupies parts of the Canadian province of Ontario. In the US, it is part of the state of New York. Lake Ontario is fed primarily by the Niagara River, has a mean depth of 86 m, stretches for 311 km, and has the greatest width of 85 km. Lake Ontario is bordered by farmlands to the north, industries around the port cities of Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario and Rochester in New York. Today, the shores of Lake Ontario houses several recreational centers where tourists arrive to participate in various tourist activities like swimming, boating, angling, etc.
4. Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest of the Great Lakes in surface area (25,667 km2). It is, however, the shallowest and the smallest by volume among the Great Lakes. The maximum depth of Lake Erie is only 64 meters. The Canadian province of Ontario and the American states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio share the Lake Erie. The US state of Michigan lies to the west of the lake. The lake was the original residence of the Erie Native American tribes from where the lake received its name. The primary inlet of Lake Erie is the Detroit River and the lake drains into the Niagara River. Overfishing, eutrophication, pollution, and algal blooms are some of the environmental threats affecting Lake Erie.
3. Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan, occupying an area of 58,026 km2, is the only Great Lake that lies entirely within the boundaries of the US. The lake ranks third among the largest lakes in the US and is roughly the size of the US state of West Virginia. The US states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin share the lake. The shores of Lake Michigan are heavily populated with nearly 12 million people living in the region. Tourism is a major source of income in the Lake Michigan area. A large number of tourists arrive in the region in search of recreational opportunities. Seasonal residents stay here during the summer months to enjoy the fresh breeze and natural beauty of the lake.
2. Lake Huron
The Lake Huron, ranking second among the largest lakes in the US, spans an area of 59,590 km2 and has the longest shoreline (6,157 km) among the Great Lakes. Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are connected to each other via the Straits of Mackinac while the former is linked to the Lake Superior through the St. Mary's River. Lake Huron hosts the largest freshwater island in the world, the Manitoulin Island.
The lake was originally inhabited by the Wyandot Indians or Hurons from where the name of the lake was derived. The Lake Huron has been associated with several natural disasters. One of the worst storms hit the Lake Huron on November 9, 1913. It produced waves as high as 11 meters and sank 10 ships killing 235 seamen. Over 1,000 shipwrecks are associated with this Great Lake, and many of these wrecks have been preserved for tourism purposes. The Lake Huron serves as a popular recreational spot and features some heavily forested regions and scenic landscapes. Round whitefish, sea lamprey, walleye, white sucker, ruffer, etc., are some of the fish species inhabiting the waters of Lake Huron.
1. Lake Superior
The largest lake in the US and the biggest among the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Superior spans an area of 82,103 km2, roughly the size of Austria or the US state of South Carolina. The US states of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin share the Lake Superior with the Canadian province of Ontario. The lake is famous for being the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. The average depth of the Lake Superior is 147 m, and it holds enough water to submerge the entire Americas under 30 cm of water. Over 200 rivers feed the largest lake in the US, and it drains into the Lake Huron via the St. Marys River.
Lake Superior has been associated with numerous shipwrecks in the past and a particular area of the lake between the Grand Marais and the Whitefish Point is known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes.” It is also widely claimed the lake never gives up its dead. The cold temperatures of Lake Superior’s waters inhibit bacterial growth which is needed to make the bodies float due to the gas generated by the bacteria within the dead bodies. More than 80 species of fish like the lake sturgeon, lake trout, coho salmon, burbot, northern pike, walleye, rock bass, etc., live in the waters of the lake. However, the low temperatures and poor nutrient composition of the lake allow only small populations of fish species to survive.